Today we come to the last phrase of Romans 12:1, "which is your spiritual worship," and I want to begin by saying something that I know will be disturbing to some people. The Greek words of this phrase are ambiguous. That is, they can be translated more than one way.

In Spain there is a very old proverb which says, “All laws go the way that kings desire.” Behind that proverb is an interesting story. About the beginning of the twelfth century there was a debate about whether the country's churches were to use Gothic or Roman prayer books in their services. The question eventually came before Alfonso VI, who was king at the time. Alfonso decided to leave the matter to chance, so he threw a copy of both prayer books into a fire declaring that the one that survived the ordeal should be chosen. However, when the Gothic missal survived the blaze, the king immediately threw it back into the fire and chose the Roman liturgies. Thus was the matter decided, and the proverb became popular throughout the country.

In his earlier days Paul was called Saul, and he was a fierce opponent of Christianity. He was a Pharisee, the strictest sect of the Jews, and he was zealous for the traditions of his fathers. This led him to participate in the martyrdom of Stephen, and he followed that by arresting and otherwise persecuting many of the early Christians. Having done what he could in Jerusalem, Saul obtained letters to the leaders of the synagogues in Damascus and went there to arrest any Christians he could find and carry them off to Jerusalem for trial and possible death

Let me give examples to show that mercy presupposes sin. The first is Adam. I would like you to try to put yourself in Adam’s position at the very beginning of human history and imagine how he must have felt when God came to him in the garden after he and Eve had sinned by eating from the forbidden tree. You will remember that God had warned Adam about eating, saying, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). The Hebrew text actually says, "On the day you eat of it you will die." But Adam and Eve had eaten of it, and now, as told in Genesis 3:9-16, God had come to them to demand an accounting and pronounce judgment.

Romans 12:1 is an amazing verse. It is one of those portions of the Bible that is literally packed with meaning, which is why we are devoting two months of study to just this verse and the next. I began by studying the word "therefore," which links the urging in verses 1 and 2 to everything that Paul has already written about in the letter. Next we looked at the idea of "sacrifice," finding that in genuine Christianity we live by dying to self, as strange as that may seem.